It’s been a long week. You’re stressed out from mama duties. You want to take a break over the weekend, but you don’t want to burden your parents by asking them to babysit. They don’t mind, of course, because they adore your little bundle of joy.
But there’s another good reason to ask: Science shows grandparents who watch their grandchildren add an average of five years to their lives.
According to a study published in “Evolution and Human Behavior,” grandparents who babysit or provide some level of care to their grandkids had lower risks of death over a 20-year period than older adults who did not take on caregiving roles. That’s according to data analyzed from the Berlin Aging Study, which tracked the health outcomes of more than 500 people ages 70 and older.
Why does babysitting have such health benefits for grandparents?
Dr. Ronan Factora of the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the study, says it’s because as you age, “You want to stay physically active. You want to stay socially engaged. You want to be cognitively stimulated; and all those things allow you to age well.”
This is not the first link made between babysitting and longevity among grandparents: Researchers behind the 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior came to a similar conclusion after analyzing previous data from the Berlin Aging Study. According to that study, grandparents who babysat their grandkids lived five years longer, on average, than those who did not.
A 2019 study also found that loneliness is a major factor in mortality for the elderly, and that the social benefits that come with babysitting grandkids may be protective in that manner, too. In a study of 1,600 adults with an average age of 71, those who had adequate companionship were more likely to live longer than those who reported loneliness. Of those who participated in the study, 23% of those who were lonely were more likely to die within 6 years of the study, versus 14% of those who didn’t say they were lonely.
The health benefits of babysitting don’t only apply to grandparents
The Evolution and Human Behavior study also found that older adults who helped care for unrelated children also had years added to their lives. Same goes for people without children: According to researchers, childless adults who provided childcare lived an average of three years longer.
That doesn’t mean you should give your children over to your parents full-time, though. Although moderate caregiving has its health benefits, previous studies have found that informal caregivers can feel physical and psychological stress from heavy involvement. In turn, they experience negative health outcomes—especially if the caregiver has a history of depression or anxiety.
In other words, it’s all about striking the right balance. As Ralph Hertwig, author of the 2016 study, puts it: “Helping shouldn’t be misunderstood as a panacea for a longer life.”
A version of this post was originally published December 19, 2017. It has been updated.